Today I am sharing a guide to Gates of the Arctic National Park, including hiking tips, photography ideas and fun facts. As part of our 59 National Parks Road Trip, we have been sharing mini guides to each of the parks on the Evolve website. Click here to check out the rest of the guides!
A Guide to Gates of the Arctic National Park
Location: Northern Alaska
Park Tally: 39/59
Orientation: Gates of the Arctic National Park is just like it sounds – a slice of natural beauty within the parameter of the Arctic Circle. Gates of the Arctic is wild, rugged, jaw-dropping and almost untouched. Similar to its neighboring park Kobuk Valley, Gates of the Arctic is extremely remote and does not have developed facilities of any kind. There are no roads or maintained trails and visitors have a choice of plane or foot for accessing the park.
Gates of the Arctic is one of the least visited parks in the country, with only 10,000 people traveling to the park each year (on average). The park can be partially seen within a day on a flight-seeing tour or truly explored by venturing into the backcountry. Rock climbers, paddlers, hikers and mountaineers are drawn to Gates of the Arctic, the reason only really understood by those who take an adventure into the isolated wonderland.
Most iconic view: The Arrigetch Peaks are arguably the most famous section of the Brooks Range and quite possibly the park. Adventure seekers come from all over the world to experience the mesmerizing views of the Arrigetch, to climb the jagged granite spires, and to spot wildlife in the valleys. The Arrigetch is best appreciated via a backcountry trek, though the peaks can be viewed via air for those unable to make such a journey. The name Arrigetch means ‘fingers of the outstretched hand’ in the native Inupiat language – perfectly describing the cirque-like formation of the peaks. We opted to venture on a 9-day wilderness trek in the Arrigetch – more about this can be read in the “for the adventurous” section below.
Accessible activity: For those short on time or unable to endeavor into the backcountry, a flight-seeing day tour of the park is the perfect option. Bettles Lodge (a short flight from Fairbanks) offers day trips to Gates of the Arctic, which allows visitors to touch down in a section of the park for a land and air experience. These trips can also be combined with a flight-seeing tour of neighboring Kobuk Valley National Park.
For the adventurous: As mentioned above, we opted for a backcountry adventure in Gates of the Arctic. Our 9-day trek with Expeditions Alaska gave us the true Alaskan wilderness experience. We were dropped by float plane at Circle Lake, where we stashed our pack rafts for later use and starting our hike towards the Arrigetch Creek. There aren’t any maintained trails in Gates of the Arctic so our ‘hike’ involved some fairly intense bush-whacking through tough tundra, forest, marsh and water.
We bush-whacked along the Arrigetch Creek for a day before making it to the base of the peaks. From here we decided to basecamp for 3 nights, allowing us to explore the different valleys, lakes and mountains without our heavy packs. It was incredible waking up each morning, crawling out of the tent and looking up to the towering peaks all around us. Our day hikes consisted of boulder hopping, scrambling up mountain sides and crossing creeks. It was the ‘roughest’ hike we had ever accomplished but by far the most rewarding. Another highlight of the trip was finishing up with 2 days of pack rafting along the Alatna River before getting picked up at Takahula Lake. We would highly recommend Expeditions Alaska if you are interested in taking a similar trek yourself!
Best photo opportunities: The entire Arrigetch was extremely photogenic, plus there were plenty of wildlife around to add variety. We saw a grizzly bear eating berries, a black wolf by the river and an abundance of moose tracks around camp. Fall would be absolutely magical in Gates of Arctic, a season we would love to return and photograph.
- Gates of the Arctic was designated a National Park in 1980. It is the second largest national park in the country (after Wrangell-St. Elias).
- Numerous subsistence communities still thrive within Gates of the Arctic, with several Eskimo tribes living in the area as well as natives of the Koyukan tribes.
- Gates of the Arctic is the northernmost national park in the United States, and lies entirely above the Arctic Circle. The Brooks Range is one of Earth’s northernmost mountain ranges.
- There are six Wild and Scenic River in Gates of the Arctic, including the Alatna River, John Rover, Kobuk River, Tinayguk River, a portion of the Noatak River, and the North Fork of the Koyukuk River.
- Wildlife found within the park include wolf, grizzly bear, muskox, caribou, moose, wolverine, fox, dall sheep and birdlife. Fish species include chum salmon, arctic char, dolly varden trout and grayling.
- In 2016, Gates of the Arctic National Park had just over 10,000 visitors.